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Carlos Prats
File:Carlos Prats.jpg
Born February 24, 1915(1915-02-24)
Talcahuano, Chile
Died September 30, 1974 (aged 59)
Buenos Aires, Argentina

General Carlos Prats González (February 24, 1915 - September 30, 1974) was a Chilean Army officer, a political figure, minister and Vice President of Chile during President Salvador Allende's government, and General Augusto Pinochet's predecessor as Commander-in-chief of the Chilean Army. He was killed with a car bomb in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 1974.



Generals C. Prats (left) and René Schneider (1970)

He was born in Talcahuano on 1915, the oldest son of Carlos Prats Risopatrón and Hilda González Suárez. He joined the Army in 1931, and graduated top of his class. In 1935, he was commissioned as an artillery officer. Three years later he became a Sub Lieutenant. Soon he returned to the Military Academy, this time as a teacher. He taught there and at the War Academy until 1954. In 1944, he married Sofia Cuthbert Chiarleoni, with whom he had three daughters.

In 1954, he was promoted to Major, and sent to military mission in the US, as adjunt military attaché, until 1958. That year he was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel, and returned as teacher to the War Academy. In 1961, he became commander of the Artillery Regiment Nº3 “Chorrillos”, and in 1963, became commander of the Regiment Nº1 “Tacna”.

In 1964 he was promoted to Colonel and sent as military attaché to Argentina. He returned to Chile in 1967 as commander of the III Army Division. In 1968 is promoted to Brigade General and Chief of the General Staff. The following year is promoted to Division General, and after a brilliant career, was named Commander-in-chief on October 26, 1970, by President Eduardo Frei Montalva, following the assassination of his predecessor, General René Schneider a few days earlier, on October 22. His nomination allayed all fears of a possible military intervention because of the election of Salvador Allende to the presidency.

Public role during the Allende years

General Prats became the head of the "constitutionalists", all members of the armed forces who lined themselves behind the Schneider Doctrine. With time, he became the strongest supporter of President Allende, and was a member of his cabinet several times, even becoming his vice-President in 1972 (Chilean Constitutional custom does not have a standing vice-presidential office; rather, the sitting Minister of the Interior, as the senior cabinet minister, is temporarily designated "vice president" only during the President's absence during formal State visits abroad).

Carlos Prats' supposed allegiance to the Schneider Doctrine was seriously undermined when he agreed to participate as a cabinet member in the Allende government. Many moderate, apolitical Army officers who supported Prats and believed in the Schneider Doctrine interpreted his joining the Allende government as a tacit endorsement of it, and thus a betrayal of General Schneider's staunch non-intereference position.

At the same time, among anti-Allende Army cadres, Prats allowed fellow officers to infer that, if the Allende government allowed the economic and political situation to become too chaotic, Prats might be convinced of the need for a coup d'état.

This strategy of trying to please both sides resulted in Prats losing the trust of all sides. Non-interventionist, apolitical officers believed Prats had become a willing tool of Allende. Anti-Allende officers believed Prats would not stand in the way of Allende using the Army to carry out his Socialist policies of forced nationalization and economic redistribution.

The only quality of Prats keeping him in good standing both within the Army and among the people was the sense that he was a measured, sober career officer who would not be pressured by the mob, nor pushed into doing anything unconstitutional or rash.

Alejandrina Cox incident

The bizarre Alejandrina Cox incident seriously damaged General Prats' public perception. Though trivial in and of itself, General Prats forever lost the respect of his officer corp, who regardless of their political beliefs, considered such a serious, potentially fatal loss of control as unprofessional and dangerous.


On June 29, 1973, he was the key player in putting down a minor coup attempt known as the Tanquetazo, and unquestionably showed great personal bravery.

However, many observers at the time and subsequently believed that this poorly organized and ultimately failed putsch would not have happened had Carlos Prats not lost his self-control in the Alejandrina Cox incident.

The fact that this putsch was so poorly organized only highlighted the fact of how easily a column of Army tanks had rolled up to the very gates of the presidential palace. Though the Tanquetazo was an abject failure, it showed that tactically, it would be a relatively simple thing to stage a full-blown coup.


Shortly afterwards another very public incident occurred. This one involved the wives of his Generals and officers who, on August 22, 1973, staged a rally in front of his home and called him a coward for not restoring civil order in Chile. That event made clear to him that his wavring policies had no support among his fellow officers. This time General Prats resigned his position both as Interior minister and as Commander in Chief of the Army the very next day. With only two other generals in favor of a constitutional solution to the political crisis, Generals Mario Sepúlveda Squella and Guillermo Pickering (both in key troop command positions), also presented their resignations in a show of support. His replacement as Commander in Chief of the Army was his second in command and an officer thought to be loyal to Allende, General Augusto Pinochet.

General Pinochet took over the position on August 23, 1973. General Prats' retirement removed the last real obstacle for a military coup, which in fact took place only three weeks later, on September 11, 1973. Immediately after the coup, on September 15, 1973, General Prats voluntarily exiled himself and his wife to Argentina.


Former Chilean General and politician Carlos Prats, after being killed in a car bomb in September 1974

On September 30, 1974, in Buenos Aires, General Prats was killed along with his wife Sofia Cuthbert, outside his own apartment, by a radio-controlled car bomb, throwing debris up to the ninth storey balcony of the building across the street. Later, it was found that the assassination was planned by members of the Chilean secret police DINA, and carried out by the American expatriate and Chilean citizen Michael Townley, who would also carry out the Orlando Letelier assassination in 1976.

The actual motivation for these assassinations will never be known. However, following the September 11 coup of the year before, Carlos Prats had not only exiled himself, he had also made statements both public and private against the Junta and Pinochet. He had also signalled his willingness to assume the role of Commander in Chief of the Armed forces in exile, or even the role of President for a shadow government or government-in-exile.

Viewed in this context, the assassination of both Prats and later Letelier makes a great deal of sense, as both men deliberately set themselves up as potential presidents-in-waiting, and thus potential challenges to the legitimacy of the ruling Junta, and later of Pinochet himself.

Legal aftermath and investigations

In Chile, the judge investigating this case, Alejandro Solis, definitively relaxed Pinochet on this particular case, after the Chilean Supreme court rejected in January 2005 a demand to lift the ex-dictator's immunity. The direction of DINA, including chief Manuel Contreras, ex-chief of operation and retired general Raúl Iturriaga, his brother Roger Iturriaga, and ex-brigadiers Pedro Espinoza and Jose Zara, are accused in Chile of this assassination.

In Argentina, DINA's civil agent Enrique Arancibia was sentenced to life imprisonment in General Prat's case. SIDE agent Juan Martín Siga Correa has been detained by Argentine justice in 2000 on orders of federal judge Maria Servini de Cubria [1]. Martín Siga Correa was DINA's main connection with the SIDE and with Intelligence Battalion 601, and was also a member of the Tacuara Nationalist Movement.

In 2003, federal judge Maria Servini de Cubria asked Chile for the extradition of Mariana Callejas, who was Michael Townley's wife, and Cristoph Willikie, a retired colonel from the Chilean army - all three of them are accused of this crime. But Chilean judge Nibaldo Segura from the Appeals court, refused in July 2005, arguing that they had already been prosecuted in Chile[2].

It also has been claimed that Italian terrorist Stefano Delle Chiaie was involved in the murder of General Carlos Prats. Along with fellow extremist Vincenzo Vinciguerra, Delle Chiaie testified in Rome in December 1995 before judge Maria Servini de Cubria that Enrique Arancibia Clavel (a former Chilean secret police agent prosecuted for crimes against humanity in 2004[3] and Michael Townley were directly involved in this assassination[4].)

Additional information

See also


External links

Political offices
Preceded by
Jaime Suárez
Minister of the Interior
Succeeded by
Gerardo Espinoza
Preceded by
Clodomiro Almeyda
Minister of Defense
Succeeded by
Orlando Letelier
Military offices
Preceded by
René Schneider
Army Commander-in-chief
Succeeded by
Augusto Pinochet

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